Embracing a far smaller universe than her usual sweeping historical fare (The Language of Threads, 1999, etc.), Tsukiyama blossoms with an intimate portrait of a mother and her dying daughter.
Spanning only two days (but a lifetime of memories), the narrative is divided among Hana, her mother Cate, and teenaged goddaughter Josie. Hana is in the last stages of Werner’s Syndrome, a disease that speeds up aging. Though only 38, she has the stooped, birdlike appearance of someone in her 80s and has been subject to old-age ailments since she was barely out of college. Now in a final decline, mostly wheelchair-bound, Hana finds refuge in the memories of her childhood and particularly of her beloved father Max, recently deceased. Cate, still mourning the loss of her husband, also retreats into the past, her memories of a gentle prince in a Thunderbird convertible. They were an unlikely pair—Cate the Boston-bred daughter of Italians, Max a Japanese-American who suffered as a child in an internment camp—but devoted to each other and to Hana. When Werner’s Syndrome handed out an early death sentence to their only child, the couple was devastated. Less successfully thrown into the mix is the voice of Josie, daughter of Hana's childhood friend Lara. She’s in a particularly unpleasant teenage stage, seeing everyone as a fake, and her unhappiness about her parents’ separation (as well as life in general) throws a superfluous stitch into an otherwise seamless tale focused on the sorrows of dying. Against Hana's wishes, Lara flies with Josie in tow to their small northern California hometown, where Hana still lives. The visit provides an expected epiphany for Josie, but also a respite for Hana: loneliness and isolation had begun to cripple her spirit, but Lara's visit will reintroduce hope and happiness into the house.
A poignant portrait of mother-daughter love in the face of death, without the attendant melodrama easily wrung from such material.